Jerry Fraser can shuck oysters with the best of them and has built quite a reputation for himself in his short time in Perth, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.
JERRY Fraser has only been in Perth six years but he seems to know just about everybody in town. In the time between meeting him outside an inner-city wine bar and finding a table he has nodded and waved in recognition to most people in the room.
His growing popularity as an oyster shucker comes as no real surprise; Jerry is an energetic and talkative man whose bonhomie has worked well on the hospitality circuit.
He has built up a database of clients that would make any PR or business development manager envious – a database he uses to promote his activities at restaurants around Perth.
But there doesn’t seem to be enough of Jerry to go around. He’s booked every evening and has four restaurants waiting in the wings for a vacancy to appear in his diary.
But he hasn’t always been a travelling show, having built up a good fan base working for Warren Mead at Mead’s Mosman Bay and Mead’s Fish House (now known as Black Tom’s) about five years ago.
Jerry’s career as an oyster shucker began as a part-time job to earn some cash while completing a degree in geology.
He initially pursued a career in rocks but decided rock oysters and the life of an oyster shucker was the way to go.
Scottish born and raised in Peru, Jerry came to Perth after meeting his (now) wife, Fiona, while travelling in London.
“I did geology for a year in Peru; there were no oysters and no oyster knives. Then I went to London and wanted to get into geology over there. There were no jobs, especially for a boy fresh out of college,” Jerry says.
“The Evening Standard had a classified ad in it that said ‘famous seafood restaurant seeks oyster man’ and a phone number. I made a call and got the job.
“It was for Bentley’s Westend. I didn’t know a thing about it but it was the oldest seafood restaurant in the UK. It was five-star and I’d seen nothing like it.”
He married in London and later, on his son’s first birthday, headed to Perth to meet his wife’s family.
“We came for five weeks and I fell in love with Perth. It’s a beautiful place,” Jerry says.
The couple emigrated and Jerry found himself managing a restaurant, before an opportunistic meeting with Warren Mead’s son, John, presented him with an opportunity to shuck oysters.
“He said his father had just bought the Vic Hotel [which became Mead’s Fish House and later Black Tom’s] and wanted to put an oyster bar in there,” Jerry says.
A few years later he suffered an injury that could have ended his career.
“It was a Friday night at 9pm on November 16 2001. I had a full restaurant at Black Tom’s and I tore a tendon in my elbow. A repetitive shucking injury,” he says.
Jerry and Warren parted ways a few months into his rehabilitation but it didn’t take long for the master shucker to regain full mobility and rack up a string of oyster shucking nights around town.
“I shucked for the opening night of Reflections and then started doing one night a week. Now it is three nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” he says.
“I joined C Restaurant not long after. Then I joined Hansons in the Swan Valley to launch the new restaurant. I shuck oysters there now every Sunday lunch. We have the regulars that come out every week.
“Then my very good friend Anne-Marie Banting wanted me to do an evening at Must. I said I’ve got Tuesdays or Wednesdays and we decided on Tuesday. It’s been very popular.
“And then the new Box restaurant asked me to do a night. I only had Wednesdays left but its working well. There is a different crew and we get a lot of younger people coming through.
“Sunday nights are spent with my family, except if I have special occasions.”
One such special occasion was a private party at this year’s Skyshow. Jerry shucked 100 dozen oysters for 50 people at a penthouse on Mill Point Road.
He travelled to Jakarta to shuck at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and will head to the Ritz Carlton, Chicago, this year.
The oysters of choice for the king shucker are Albany Rock Oysters, which Jerry ranks among the world’s best.
“Cold waters are great for oysters. First on my list would be those from Northern Ireland and then the oysters from Canada. Albany Rock Oysters are third followed by France and so on. That is based on flavour and texture,” he says.
And he has a few tips for oyster lovers.
“I don’t eat cooked oysters. They have to be naturally opened and not washed under a tap and not pre-shucked. That way you retain the sea salt.”
With his overwhelming popularity it would seem Jerry has a good customer base to open up his very own oyster bar. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it’s a topic that has been on his mind for a while.
“If it was the right location and the right finance then maybe. I have been approached but I can’t say too much,” he says.
Where you’ll find Jerry Fraser:
Monday evening: C Restaurant
Tuesday evening: Must Winebar
Wednesday evening: Box Deli
Thursday evening: Reflections
Friday lunch: C Restaurant
Friday evening: Reflections
Saturday evening: Reflections
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